I’m something of a bird-watching enthusiast and so can often be found thinking about visiting my local reserve, RSPB Saltholme. You can imagine, therefore, my alarm and surprise to discover that the RSPB had recently approved the building of a gas turbine power station on land immediately adjacent to such precious habitat – cherished as it is by spoonbills, avocets and black-tailed godwits as their safe space within which to be beautiful. Angrily, I sought out the RSPB’s own announcement, in order to read the following explanation, found strutting under the headline: ‘Why aren’t the RSPB fighting this development and what exactly is being proposed?’
“As the UK continues the transition towards a low carbon economy, renewable energy is ever more prominent as the lowest cost, cleanest form of electricity generation. But with a higher proportion of our energy sourced from renewables, it is becoming increasingly challenging to balance the UK grid and keep the lights on, particularly when there is little wind or during times of peak demand.
During the transition period of starting to use more renewable energy there will be periods when there is a gap in the supply and demand, typically at peak evening and morning activity times.
Currently, this extra demand is supplied by large gas turbine power stations running at low load, which when used like this are very inefficient and have a relatively high carbon footprint as they take a long time to start and stop when the extra electricity may only be needed for a very short time. In contrast, modern, gas reciprocating engines like the ones proposed at Saltholme, are far more efficient and produce a lot less carbon as they can be started and stopped very quickly. It has been estimated that using one of these peaking plants to provide the peak demand cover in place of a big gas turbine power station could cut carbon emissions by the equivalent of 10,000 cars annually.
Although the RSPB is fundamentally against the further use of fossil fuels for providing our country’s base load electricity generation, this type of facility could actually help reduce carbon emissions during the period of transition towards a true low carbon, renewable energy economy by reducing the amount of gas used by large inefficient powerplants designed to be running at full power being used as a stop start backup.”
Upon reading this, I felt ashamed. How could I have possibly doubted the motives of that most wonderful organization, the RSPB? Having put its not inconsiderable political support behind the building of the massive, off-shore, migrating-bird-macerating windfarms decorating the Northeast Coast, what better idea but to build a teensy-weensy gas turbine station on the doorstep of the sanctuary provided for the migratory survivors? After all, by not approving a big powerplant, they have saved so much carbon! And let us not forget, it will only be needed when the wind turbines are not actively flicking the birds out of the sky. Sounds like a win-win to me.